Most cyclists retire their bikes once the weather gets cold, but this past winter, we have seen an increase in cyclists well through the coldest season. In some places like our own city, Montreal, cyclists are continuing to ride their bike as their main form of transport, despite the snow, ice and salt. In fact, winter cycling trips in Montreal have increased 70% since 2020.
The growth in winter cycling is part of a major trend we’ve seen throughout 2020 — the heightened anxiety over taking public transit, and the desire to get outside and maintain one’s sense of freedom due to the pandemic has resulted in what experts are calling the “bike boom”. From Europe to North America, the increasing amount of cyclists on the road is undeniable — and we are excited to see it!
This trend has left some experts questioning whether bikes are here to stay. In an interview with BBC, Morgan Lommele, director of state policy at People for Bikes, stated that we may be seeing some permanent changes in favour of the bicycle. “Most of the growth we see is in recreational cycling, which is a gateway to transportation biking,” he said. So, what does it take to keep the momentum going? Well, there are several factors, and surprisingly, this is where winter cycling and post-pandemic cycling intersect.
Safety: The number #1 reason for bike anxiety
When looking at the factors that make cycling difficult, the pains seem to remain relatively similar, regardless of season. Feeling unsafe seems to be one of the major factors in preventing people from cycling on a regular basis.
Will Butler-Adams, the director of UK’s Bromptom Bikes, said in an interview with BBC that he too believes safety to be one of the major factors that encouraged people to bike more. “Lockdown meant that suddenly the streets quietened, the air was clean and people felt safe.” Simply put, without having to share the road with cars, cyclists felt safer which in turn encouraged them to bike more.
Similarly, Matt Farough, our team’s software developer, and Eric Say Chan, one of our beta testers, also agree that one of the major factors preventing people from cycling, especially in the winter, is safety.
“I find one of the main deterrents among people is that they are afraid of riding in the streets in summer, and this is exacerbated in winter with the poor maintenance work by the city.”
– Eric Say Chan
Safety of cyclists is something that can be improved with better infrastructure. The pandemic and the resulting investment in cities all over the world to improve the lives of cyclists show that, if safety is taken care of, more people are likely to bike throughout all seasons.
From Paris investing in the creation of hundreds of kilometres of pop-up cycling lanes to Montreal’s very own Express Bike Network (Réseau Express Vélo) – an initiative that has created 184km of dedicated cycling paths – the proof is out there that if safety of cyclists are prioritized through better infrastructure, you’ll see more cyclists out on the road, regardless of subzero temperatures.
Keeping the momentum
While the jury is still out on whether or not the cycling renaissance will have a more permanent impact on urban travel, most agree that if cities continue to provide safer cycling routes, people will continue to bike. But, this isn’t a one-way street, for cities to continue investing in cycling infrastructure, we need cyclists — cyclists who will continue to grow the community.
As Xavier Peich, co-founder of SmartHalo says, “We need to talk more about how AWESOME [cycling] is!”
One year into this pandemic, more people are craving the sense of freedom and flexibility a bike can provide. While many pandemic cyclists may have opted to start riding because of their fear of public transport, Butler-Adams notes that “mostly it was the joy of experiencing cities as they could be” that kept people cycling. Cycling in the winter certainly gives you a completely different experience of one’s city.
If things continue in the current direction, we will most likely see more and more cyclists braving all four seasons on two wheels. If you’re in a city that still has yet to thaw from this winter, perhaps it’s time to grab your balaclava, gloves, and ski goggles and give winter cycling a try. If not, you have next winter to look forward to!